If you go to the Kenneth L. Schroeder Wildlife Sanctuary, you can find the above beaver dam, where a beaver may possibly be hiding to wait out the intense cold of winter.

By Joe Phipps, Staff Writer

Sometimes we all need to get away from the stresses of everyday life.  As finals approach, escaping the library becomes more important than ever, and I am a firm believer that nature is one of life’s greatest stress relievers.

While there are many places that are great for finding peace, one of my favorite places to go and relax is at the sewage plant.  While that may sound unappealing, this is only on the surface.

Next to the Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant (16041 East 700 North Road. Heyworth, Ill.) is the Kenneth Schroeder Nature Sanctuary.

The ponds at Schroeder are actually the final step in cleaning Bloomington’s wastewater.  The plants and bacteria in the pond make the water as clean as any other pond you could find, and this secluded water source attracts a variety of interesting wildlife.

I have seen many things at the Kenneth Schroeder Wildlife Sanctuary: ducks of all kinds, frogs and turtles, deer and, most recently, a beaver dam.  That’s right, the secluded pond and many small trees have attracted a North American beaver (Castor canadensis).  Although I have not yet seen a beaver there, it may be possible that the beaver will over-winter in its dam and stay at the pond in the spring.

Along with rare animals, Schroeder is teeming with even the most common natural wonders—robins spend the winters in its small woodlot, frogs and toads gather by the hundreds to reproduce in the spring, and migratory birds congregate to rest and eat in the spring and fall.

If you have had enough of ponds and animals, there is also a small forested section where you have the opportunity to feel completely secluded from the roads just a short distance away.

The woodlot is dominated by Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), a tree related to the pea with dense clusters of large thorns growing from the trunk.

Alongside the Honey Locust is Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera), a small tree with very dense wood, large thorns and large green fruits known as hedge apples.  The fruit of the Osage Orange was once commonly used as an insect repellent.

If these trees bearing large thorns and unusual fruit make you feel like you are in some alien environment, it is because you are. Both the Honey Locust and the Osage Orange are North American plants that are invasive in the Midwest.

If you love trees, wetlands and tall grasses, but hate having to walk around to find them and just want to sit back and let nature come to you. The edge of the larger of two ponds at Schroeder has an observation hut where you can set up you chair, grab some binoculars and watch nature free of worry.

Hate spiders and insects?  Grab a few of the insect repelling hedge apples on the way.  It really is surprising how good you can feel after just a few minutes of sitting back and letting the world continue without you.

If a few critters, alien forests and serene views aren’t enough to overcome the idea of going to a wastewater treatment plant, let me assure you that there are no negative sights or smells associated with the sanctuary. I have been there many times bird watching, frog catching and even just wandering around, and I can’t say that I’ve had a negative experience yet.

Kenneth Schroeder Nature Sanctuary is a calming place where you can go to bird watch, hike, picnic or even just watch the sunset.